A Chat with The Pre-Vinylite Society

Meredith, of Best Dressed Signs, Boston

Meredith Kasabian (image courtesy of Rene Dongo)

Maybe you’ve already heard of ‘The Pre-Vinylite Society‘. If not, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to this illustrious and passionate group of craftspeople. Though still in its infancy, the society models itself on the craft guilds of centuries past. As their manifesto states,

[We] are observant of the aesthetic world around us and resistant to traditions that dictate easy, quick, and careless ways of making our art…We care about the aesthetics of our surroundings because we know that artistic vigilance in the face of mass conformity will deliver us from a homogenous existence.

I discussed the finer points of the society with Meredith Kasabian, of Best Dressed Signs in Boston. Meredith is the literary voice of the society, curating the blog, writing and collecting articles for publication, and encouraging Pre-Vinylites to contribute their thoughts on art, lettering, society, beauty and the public space. Meredith tells:

The Pre-Vinylite Society is a loose network of mostly sign enthusiasts who are invested in improving the aesthetics of their local surroundings and public spaces.  It came into being through Best Dressed Signs’ Josh Luke’s desire for a non-judgmental, all-inclusive forum where sign painters of all skill levels could showcase their work and get advice without worrying about being “good enough” yet.

Sign-painter Josh Luke

Sign-Painter, Josh Luke, documents a finished work of art. ‘At Streetcar we believe that the best wines and beers are fundamentally hand crafted by hardworking, conscientious winemakers and brewers. We made aesthetic choices in designing our shop to signify and reflect the truly human processes of making wine and beer.’ – Owner Michael Dupuy (Image courtesy of Streetcar Wines)

It started as, and mostly still is, just a Facebook page (though I’ve recently started a Tumblr page called the Pre-Vinylite Society blog for more literary inclined Pre-Vinylites to share their thoughts and stories as well) but we hope to spread the word and have it develop into a movement towards a more visually conscious populace who demand that their urban environments be aesthetically improved—mostly through quality signage but also through historical preservation efforts, etc. Membership is self-ordained. Anyone that wants to be involved is more than welcome!

(for a list of members, click here.)

painting a window sign

Josh Luke paints ‘PVS’ on a window. (image courtesy of Flickr)

Right now the Pre-Vinylite Society—as a society—is kind of nebulous. As I mentioned, it’s really just a Facebook page and a Tumblr site at the moment but judging from people’s responses on those venues, it seems to strike a chord.

Back in 2010, when Josh and I were sitting around the kitchen talking about how we’d like to develop an inclusive community dedicated to the improvement of our urban landscapes, we came up with the idea and wrote this blog post called The Pre-Vinylites: Notes on a Manifesto. The first and only person to comment on that blog post was Colt Bowden. He’s a sign painter, illustrator, and letterpress printer in southern California and he’s just a very motivated, smart guy. Josh suggested a PVS zine and Colt made it happen, and in a really awesome way! All three of Colt’s artistic pursuits are showcased really well in the zine! The first volume, Egyptian Lettering, was just his work (with excerpts from sign painting books, etc.), while the second volume, Casual Lettering, and the third volume, Script Lettering, are compilations of the work of many sign painters around the world. You can purchase Colt’s ‘zines’ from Etsy

How to Paint Signs and Influrnce People

‘How to Paint Signs & Influence People’, Volume 2, a Magazine by Colt Bowden (image courtesy of Colt Bowden)

Colt was also kind enough to send a few images from the third issue:

Colt Bowden's 'Zine'


Hand-Lettered Words

At this early stage it seems that most people who associate with the PVS do so because their standards are high. But I can see how it may eventually get beyond our control and we may start witnessing people doing things in the name of the PVS that don’t meet our standards. But that’s why I’m trying to develop the PVS blog and promote Colt’s zine. These products provide  a kind of anchor for the PVS and record its original standards.

PVS Lettering

‘The Pre-Vinylite Society’, by Sean Gallagher, of Working Class Creative, Philadelphia (image courtesy of Dribbble)

We hope that the PVS will continue to grow and that people who associate with it will continue to uphold the basic tenets of the society—to improve our aesthetic environments by producing quality work that doesn’t conform to traditions that dictate an easy or cheap way of producing art.

PVS Sign North Carolina

A PVS Sign by Suzanne Martin Bircher, of Hand-Painted Signs, Dunn, North Carolina (image coutesy of Hand-Painted Signs)

I studied Romantic and Victorian literature and found out about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood through Christina Rossetti’s poetry. She was the sister of Gabriel Dante Rosetti who was one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Christina was never technically a member—probably because she was a woman—but she was a critical part of the movement.

Christina Rosetti

Christina Rosetti (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

I was immediately attracted to the Pre-Raphaelites’ art and its relation to poetry and as I read more about their mission to defy academic art that taught a strict, almost rote manner of producing paintings (from a tradition started by Raphael), I became more attracted to their Romantic and rebellious attitude. I also like that they incorporated a writing component into their mission—they had a very short lived publication called The Germ that accompanied their work and sought to express their ideals in both written and visual mediums. As a writer who explores visual art, that obviously appeals to me. The PRB incited many conversations about how Josh and I could borrow this rebellious attitude and incorporate it into an art/sign painting community.

Once we decided on the name,  Josh made his Pre-Vinylite Society  painting. It’s an homage to the PRB, manipulating an image of Jane Morris from Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s 1874 painting Proserpine into a kind of muse for sign painting (instead of the pomegranate that condemned Proserpine to spend half her year in Hades, she’s holding a lettering quill—a sign of the light to come).

Pre-Vinylite Society

The Pre-Vinylite Society, painted by Josh Luke (image courtesy of Signblanks)

Art-Nouveau Painting

Painting Detail – Jane Morris holds a lettering quill, rather than a pomegranate (image courtesy of PVS)

Proserpine Painting

And the painting that inspired Josh’s work – Proserpine (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

As I mention in the Pre-Vinylite Society Manifesto: “Much like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood from whom we derive our name, the Pre-Vinylite Society is made up of members who are observant of the aesthetic world around us and resistant to traditions that dictate easy, quick, and careless ways of making our art. Also like the Pre-Raphaelites, we Pre-Vinylites are writers and artists, striving to make our mission heard as well as seen.”
As for the future of the sign industry in general, we feel very positive that quality work will continue to be produced—but personally I think the message of the society needs to get out to more than just the sign painters themselves. Business owners, graphic designers, and the general population need to be shown what quality work is so that they can judge it against less quality work and make more informed decisions about the options available to them. Personally, I don’t think the mainstream will ever value quality over quantity. But maybe I’m just a cynic!

Although we take inspiration from a pre-internet age, without the internet, the Pre-Vinylite Society would just be me and Josh sitting around our kitchen talking about how we wish more people appreciated hand painted signs!

I think a major misconception about the Society is that people take “Pre-“ to mean “Anti.” We are NOT Anti-Vinyl—we are PRO-commemorating a time BEFORE (or PRE-) vinyl. We’re not nostalgic for times past but we are historians and we think those times should be honored and certainly not forgotten. But we also know that history only has as much to teach us as we’re willing to take into the future and make new.

We consider the computer to be a tool like any other. We’re committed to making signs by hand, but that doesn’t mean we need to buy stock in erasers when we can fix a small kerning issue on a hand drawn sketch with a few clicks on Photoshop.

If you’re interested in learning hand-lettering, the best advice is to seek out a sign painter in your community and learn from them–nothing compares to learning from a master. If an apprenticeship is not available to you, scour the internet for sign painting forums and ask questions, read every sign painting book you can get your hands on, and practice lettering every day, even when you don’t feel like it. Also, remember that hand lettering, like every skilled trade, requires patience and a lot of practice before you’ll even feel comfortable with the brush. It also requires a fine balance between confidence and humility–as do most honest endeavors.

I would like to push the PVS into areas that reach beyond signage and lettering like architecture or even public art. I think the PVS is about caring what your environment looks like and valuing art done well, more so than just hand painted signage. But hand painted signs are the root of the society and will always anchor its philosophy.

Pre-Vinylite Society Ring

Sign-Painter Ken Davis sports a PVS ring. (image courtesy of PVS)

Here are some images from a PVS art show, held last year at the Extension Gallery at Orchard Skateshop (Allston, Massachusetts):

Sign Painting

(image courtesy of Colt Bowden)

Painted Saws

Hand-Lettered Saws by Kenji Nakayama (image courtesy of Colt Bowden)

Signs as art

(image courtesy of Colt Bowden)

Sign Painters do it in 1 Shot

A Sign by Jeff Canham of San Francisco (image courtesy of Colt Bowden)

Sign-painter Kenji Nakayama

Kenji Nakayama stand in front of his saw paintings (image courtesy of Orchard Skateshop)

PVS Painted Saw

One of Kenji’s Saws, promoting PVS (image courtesy of Kenji Nakayama)

Pre-Vinylite Society

Painted Sign Show

Art Enthusiasts debate the merits of Hand-Lettering (image courtesy of Mouseizm)

Painted SIgns

(image courtesy of The Phoenix)

And now, since Meredith was kind enough to share her thoughts with us here, I’ve finally taken up her request to put together a guest post for the PVS blog. The piece is entitled ‘A History of Creative Sign-making: A Sign-Carver’s Perspective‘. If you still have some time, please read it on The Pre-Vinylite’s Tumblr page!

5 thoughts on “A Chat with The Pre-Vinylite Society

  1. I’m in hand-drawn font heaven! Great to see hand crafted design thriving in the digital age. William Morris would be so proud of The Pre Vinylite Society!

  2. I’m sure he would! It’s interesting how these folks use technology for networking and inspiring each other, seeing as they’re quite scattered geographically, but the work itself is very much pre-computer.

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